Truths About Riding Gear

Crash4_02-smProtection is a good thing, right? Of course it is. After all, nobody wants to get hurt if they can help it. Besides that, the right riding gear makes being out on the open road more comfortable and enjoyable. The gear you choose also completes your “look” and style. What’s not to like?

Freedom Lost

Most people ride motorcycles for fun…Nobody I ever met said they ride to be safe. The focus on fun over safety leads a lot of people to adopt a lackadaisical attitude toward the real risks of riding and a distaste for wearing protection.
I get that. Before I knew better I would hop on my CB160 in whatever I had on. Shorts? Sure. Sneakers? Absolutely. No Helmet? Why not?…It’s a short ride to the market, after all.
Well, that ill-informed and clueless kid turned into an adult who has seen what happens when skin contacts asphalt at speed and what a top-quality helmet looks like after an impact (see photo). You can say my innocence has been forever ruined. But, I’m okay with wearing protective gear if it means an increased chance of living a long life on two wheels.

Cost

That sense of security doesn’t come for free. First, there is the monetary cost of outfitting your body with decent-quality protective gear. You’ll want gear that works in hot, cold, and wet weather. It’s out there and is really not as costly as many people assume. Shop around.

Photo2_Readiness-nogear-smHassle

Then there is the inconvenience of putting on and taking off all that gear. Sometimes I just want to jump on the bike without taking 15 minutes to put on all the “proper” gear. But, if I don’t zip on my gear I feel a bit guilty for not managing the risk, imagining how much it would suck if I were to fall and slide wearing only my bluejeans instead of my armored MotoPort Kevlar pants.
A lot of you would think that’s a bit over the top as many of you have no problems wearing  jeans to protect your legs, with a few of you even choosing to ride lid-less, for Crys-sakes! For me, there’s never a question about wearing a riding jacket, boots, helmet and gloves…I always do.
As much as riding gear can be a PIA, once I’m on the road, I’m happier, more comfortable and less likely to need the services of Nurse Roadrash if something bad happens. I can live with that, and I hope you will too.
Think about this: Imagine how foolish and remorseful you’d be if you crashed in your t-shirt and jeans while all your best protective gear is hanging in the closet. Even if you don’t think you’d beat yourself up too bad about it, your mother, spouse or (smart) riding friends will probably raise an eyebrow about your lapse of judgment as you wince in pain with the slightest movement. Dumbass.

Photo3-Gear_Harley-smImage

Gear also completes your style, announcing to the public and your peers what “tribe” you belong to.
The type of gear your peeps wear (or not) is likely to be what you will wear. Showing up at a gathering looking “over protected” could mark you as less of a man or a Nervous Nellie. This matters because we’re all just kids living in overgrown bodies who want to fit in, after all.
The solution? I suggest you be brave and wear what makes the most sense to your values of risk management. You don’t have to diverge too far from the norm. Take a closer look at what’s available and you’ll discover that there are ways to protect yourself fairly well while still achieving the “Look” you’re aiming for.

Imagine this rider's skull if he wasn't wearing a helmet.
Imagine this rider’s skull if he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Does Protective Gear Make Us “Safer”?

Statistics and common sense suggest that wearing protective gear has had a positive affect on injury rates. However, the decrease in injury and fatality rates are not as dramatic as you might expect. In fact, the rate of injury has remained more-or-less constant even when more people are protected. Why?
One possible reason is when humans utilize risk-reducing “interventions”, such as safety belts, bicycle helmets or motorcycle safety gear, they tend to feel safer and therefore unconsciously increase their level of risk. This effect is called “Risk Compensation”.
The prevalence of this behavior varies from person to person, but we are all susceptible.
What this suggests is that the benefit of protective gear may not be fully realized until you understand the human tendency to compensate for a sense of protection. It’s smart to wear protective gear, but be sure to recalibrate your mind to avoid the trap of risk compensation.

J9_CrashRisk Homeostasis

Risk perception and acceptance varies from person to person and is based partly on personal beliefs and past experiences. Risk acceptance is determined by the individual’s need for a thrill. Some people thrive on adrenaline and living on the edge. Others, not so much.
The amount of risk a person takes is also determined by “risk homeostasis”. Gerald J.S. Wilde, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada wrote a controversial book titled “Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health” where he describes how each individual will compensate for changes in risk exposure. His hypothesis is that if risk is reduced in one area, the individual will increase risk in another area to maintain his or her level of acceptable risk.
Whether you believe this or not, it is an interesting theory that I think has at least a thread of truth and further points to the importance of self-awareness when it comes to risk perception and awareness.

No Panacea

Crashed helmet-sm

We’d all love to think we can prevent death or serious injury simply by zipping on a sturdy jacket and strapping on the most expensive helmet we can afford. But, the reality is that many deaths occur despite the rider wearing all the best gear. After all, elbow, knee, back and shoulder armor is no match for a truck or tree. And no helmet made can withstand the impact of more than 300 G, which is a problem when a direct impact at normal speeds can easily exceed 500 G.
BCordura-Damage02-smy all means, increase your protection. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that simply wearing protection will save you from poor decisions. You need to be careful not to adopt a false sense of confidence because you feel less vulnerable.
PLEASE do not think for one minute that wearing good riding gear doesn’t reduce or prevent injury and death…it does. Just remember that protective gear is intended to prevent injury, not give permission to ride recklessly.
What am I missing? Add your comments below.
Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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Schooling the Public

This what people see that prompts them to ask "Aren't you hot?"
This is what people see that prompts them to ask “Aren’t you hot?”

I thought it might be fun to share a sampling of statements I hear often from Mr. and Mrs. Non-riding Public, along with my usual response. Perhaps these statements are familiar to you, too. And maybe your responses are similar to mine. Whatever.

#1: “Aren’t You Hot?”

This is directed toward the fact that I’m wearing a jacket, riding pants, gloves, etc. This question often makes me scratch my head, because I assume that people understand the concept of wind chill factor and can imagine that the gear I have on is perfect, not only for comfort, but also for protection.
Yeah, they don’t seem to understand that riding gear is a compromise. Even the best vented gear can be hot even at speed, but I won’t ride without protection. Grasping that concept seems a bit too difficult for Mr. and Ms. Public without some patient education.
My response: “Not once I’m rolling over 30mph.” “Besides, I need the protection, just in case”.

Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.
Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.

#2: “I Don’t Like Motorcycles…They’re too Loud”

This usually comes up in conversation at parties when I disclose that I am a motorcycle rider. I can fully understand the non-motorcyclists’ reaction to obnoxiously loud pipes. Even as a career rider, I am annoyed and barely tolerant of loud motorcycles. Imagine the lack of tolerance Mr. and Ms. Public has for riders who invade their peace and quiet.
My response: “I don’t like loud motorcycles either.” “Do you know that motorcycles aren’t loud when they are ridden out of the showroom?”
Stunned silence usually follows as they try to comprehend that someone would take a perfectly good (quiet) motorcycle and make it obnoxious…on purpose.
I get it. A motorcycle that makes no sound seems to lack a visceral depth that most riders value. But, personally, I’ve come to value not invading others’ auditory space with my exhaust, so I keep my street bike exhausts stock.
I recently rode an electric “Zero” motorcycle and I can tell you that the total lack of engine sound did not take away from the awesome performance and  unique experience of this torquey, fun machine. I contend that excessive noise detracts from riding enjoyment, rather than enhances it.
And then there is the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” theory. While I understand that loud pipes can get attention, making a bunch of racket is NOT a reliable way to get people to avoid you. Lane position and other strategies that allow you to be SEEN are much more effective ways to avoid a mishap.
Besides, sound is directional, so exhausts pointed rearward are of little benefit when the most likely collision scenario involves an approaching vehicle turning left across your lane at an intersection.

Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.
Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.

#3: “Aren’t Motorcycles Dangerous?”

This question needs no explanation, except that people who ask are implying that because it is risky to ride a motorcycle, that I must be a person who exercises poor judgment. These are often people who value safety and therefore distance themselves from risk…at least things they deem risky, which is most likely things they don’t understand.
Not everyone who asks this question is afraid of risk. Sometimes they are just responding to a preconceived notion of how dangerous motorcycles are. This deduction comes from horror stories heard from acquaintances and from sensational news reports. We all have prejudices based on indirect knowledge and assumptions. These people are simply reacting to what they think is the truth.
Unfortunately, it is true that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. So, how do I respond?
My response: “Yes, riding a motorcycle isn’t for everybody. If you’re not a person who is committed to being as skillful and conscientious as possible, then you probably don’t belong on a bike.”

I guess I'm not a real biker...I have no tattoos.
I guess I’m not a real biker…I have no tattoos.

#4: “Where are Your Tattoos?”

Really? Yep. This silly question usually comes from the mouths of people who make assumptions about what motorcycle riders “look like” and probably don’t personally know a motorcycle rider, or don’t know a motorcycle rider who does not have tattoos.
The “biker types” get the attention of the general public because they make a lot of noise and go out of their way to look tough with their ink and leather “costumes”. These bikers get Mr and Ms. Public’s attention so that their perception is that motorcycle riders dress the way the loud riders dress.
I challenge the ignorance of stereotypes by looking “normal”. Sure, I have my own costume, but it is that of a rider who embraces a motorcycling lifestyle as a sport, daily transportation, and a way to see faraway places.
My response: “Shut the Hell Up.” Just Kidding. I might joke about having ink in places I can’t show in public and say it in a way that makes them question their assumptions of what some riders look like. And then I walk away.

Three people, three motorcycles.
Yes, women ride their own motorcycles.

#5: “How Do You Get Three People on one Motorcycle or do you have a sidecar?”

This question was directed toward my wife when she, our then 10 year old daughter, and I walked into a restaurant on a family motorcycle trip several years ago with all of our riding gear in hand. Caroline hesitated for a moment in disbelief as she finally realized that the person assumed that women do not ride their own motorcycles, therefore the only explanation must be that we all somehow fit on one motorcycle or that a sidecar was the answer. A woman on her own bike never crossed their mind.
Her response: “I ride my own motorcycle, and have been for over ten years.”


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Tell Me Where it Hurts

Say no more.
Say no more.

The type of injuries sustained by motorcycle riders may not be what you think. We all know that a traumatic bonk on the head is the most likely way to become dead. The brain just cannot handle being bashed around inside your cranium without suffering some bleeding or bruising.
That’s why those who understand the risks of riding a motorcycle wear helmets, and not those skull cap, yamaka, pseudo brain buckets, but a real DOT or ECE (“Economic Commission for Europe), or Snell approved unit; preferably one with really cool colors and graphics (if that’s your thing).

Legs and Feet

Take a look at the pie graph (mmmm, pie, source: CDC). While the head and neck are understandably high on the list of parts we injure. Statistically, it is even more likely that you will have some pretty beat up the legs and feet.
I’ve experienced this first and second hand. I’ve broken a foot from a parking lot tipover (note to self: remove disc lock before flight, dumbass) and tore my ACL (it’s in the knee) from a dirt biking tipover. And Caroline broke her foot falling over in gravel on (or should I say “off”) the racetrack.
This is why I wear armored boots and riding pants with knee armor. I guess most other riders in the U.S. have not heard this fact, because very few I see wear more than sneakers and jeans with the occasional person of questionable intelligence wearing flip-flops and shorts.

Really?
Really?

Leg Protection

As a person who promotes track days, I often get questions about what riding gear is acceptable when riding on the track. Most serious riders have riding jackets that are decent enough to pass tech at some track days, like Tony’s Track Days. So, that usually isn’t a problem. But, invariably when I ask about what riding pants they have, they look puzzled and say “None. I ride in jeans”. Oops.
I get it. I didn’t begin wearing riding pants until after I had been riding for about 15 years. That’s when I started thinking more about the risks of riding. Back then, there weren’t a lot of riding pants to choose from.
I discovered that Motoport gave a discount to MSF instructors, so I bought an Ultra II overpant that I wore for several seasons. It provided years of comfort and protection. And from the looks I got from the ladies, it looked good, too. OK. there were no ladies, but I can dream, can’t I?
I digress. Today, there are tons of options in protective pants that are not expensive and offer pretty good protection from at least minor leg injuries.

Lookin' good in my Motoport Riding pants.
Lookin’ good in my Motoport Riding pants.

Now, I always wear leg protection when I ride, usually my high-dollar MotoPort Ultra II stretch Kevlar zip-on uber-pants. I know these look good because I’ve been told so (by my wife, but she counts, right?) These are undoubtedly the most comfortable and protective pants I’ve seen, except when it gets to be over 85 F.
But now I have another option. Jeannine just bought me my first pair of Kevlar jeans (with knee armor). I was quite surprised at how well they fit and looked (maybe the ladies will notice me now). I haven’t worn them yet, but I like having the option of wearing protective pants that look “normal” when I walk into a store.
Twisted Throttle (and others) sell armored mesh pants that offer great ventilation and enough protection for one small-to-medium sized crash. That’s enough to make them well worth their relatively inexpensive cost.
Do yourself, your knees and your legs a favor and wear protective pants.
touring boots are comfortable with good protection.
Touring boots are comfortable with decent protection.

Foot Fetish

Caroline and my foot injuries happened even though we were both wearing motorcycle boots, which just goes to show you that not all boots are equal. Had I been wearing my Sidi race boots at the time I may have avoided the broken foot…maybe.
But, I was on a street ride where I was doing a fair amount of walking, so I was wearing my touring boots. These are good, but are a compromise between protection and comfort. I’m in the market for new street boots and will be selecting one that leans a bit more toward protection than my current boots.
Believe it or not, even with my history of foot injuries, I do ride wearing work boots from time to time. Convenience and practicality sometimes trump maximum protection.

race boots aren't made for walkin'
race boots aren’t made for walkin’

What injuries have you suffered? Is the pie chart in line with your experiences?


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